It’s not a new script for Maharashtra, where every election sees allies on both sides of the political spectrum engage in haggling over the number of seats they will contest. This time, however, it is about changing power equations.
While the Congress tries to convince partner Nationalist Congress Party that it cannot contest 50 per cent of the 288 assembly seats in the state elections later this year, the BJP, resurgent after its magnificent showing in the general elections, has reportedly made a similar demand of its ally, the Shiv Sena. It wants to contest half the seats.
Simply put the BJP just does not see itself as the junior partner in the Maharashtra alliance anymore. In the May national elections, it won 23 seats while partner Shiv Sena had won 18. Together their alliance of five parties had swept the state winning 42 of 48 seats.
In previous assembly elections, the BJP had always contested fewer seats than the Shiv Sena; in 2009, the BJP fought 117 while the Shiv Sena fought 171 seats. But it has now sought the adjustment on the basis of its new role as the leader of a national alliance that rules at the Centre.
BJP leaders also believe that the party’s super performance in the elections, powered by Narendra Modi, will extend to the assembly elections. The Shiv Sena is expected to stonewall the 50:50 formula and demand a larger share as always.
In the opposite Congress-NCP camp, it has already caused much tension. Routed by the BJP-Sena alliance in May, the partners, who have ruled Maharashtra for the last 15 years, now have their backs to the wall.
Sharad Pawar’s NCP has said it will settle for nothing less than contesting half the seats, and it wants seat-sharing decided upon soon.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress recently warned the NCP that his party would not be cowed down by threats and that it would prefer to contest the elections alone than to compromise on its self respect.